Late-Round Evaluations: Akin, Cueto, Fleming, Gibson, & Others

I’m continuing my attention on fringe starters. They are the starters who once the season starts, managers are going to have to make a quick decision on adding or dropping. These pitchers will be in play all season. I’m using NFBC’s ADP and starting at the bottom and selecting any starter drafted by half the teams.

Here is an evaluation of a few more starters (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7).

570: Brendan McKay

McKay got hit around (.331 BABIP, 1.5 HR/9) in 2019, but his strikeout (10.3 K/9) and walk (2.9 BB/9) were fine. He never got to pitch in the majors last season and eventually needed shoulder surgery. Reports are that he’ll likely not be ready by Opening Day.

I’m just going to pass on him in all formats. There are other pitchers I’d rather gamble on than prospect coming back from shoulder surgery.

569: Keegan Akin

Akin was an intriguing rookie where a high BABIP (.358) led to a high WHIP (1.44) and ERA (4.56). His strikeouts (12.3 K/9) and walks (3.5 BB/9) usually point to a pitcher with a high 3.00’s ERA.

I’ll start with the good. His fastball (14% SwStr%) and changeup (21% SwStr%) are elite and he threw them 79% of the time. The results are similar to Chris Paddack’s pitches (fastball: 8% SwStr%, change: 18% SwStr%). It’s the other 20% of pitches that cost him. His curveball (10% SwStr%) was below average and his slider (4% SwStr%) was complete garbage. Also, none of his pitches generate groundballs at an above-average rate, so he’s likely to be home run prone, especially in his small home park.

With his current talent level, he should be a two-pitch pitcher who could mix in an occasional curveball. With just the two pitches, he’ll be limited twice through the order by his manager or the opposing team teeing off. There is a lot to like here, but the profile has limited upside.

564: Kyle Gibson

Gibson’s has never been a good pitcher, but fantasy owners keep hoping for a breakout. The main reason for the optimism is that his slider (21% SwStr), change (17% SwStr%), and curve (14% SwStr%) are all above average. If an average fastball (92 mph) is added, the results would be decent. His fastballs are … not good (4% SwStr%).

One other factor in play is that his fastball velocity is all over the place. When he’s able to throw it over 95 mph, he has a 2.40 ERA. Otherwise, it stinks. Over his career, his sinker has a .800 vsOPS and his four-seamer as .978 vsOPS.

I kept digging into Gibson’s profile, and there is just nothing new to hope for an improvement. Don’t draft before round 40.

561: Johnny Cueto

Cueto continues to baffle hitters and generate weak contact. He always seemed to be living on the edge, but the edge is now gone with his walk rate over over 3.00. Five times in his career, he’s posted a walk rate over 3.00 and his ERA’s ranged from 4.41 to 5.40. When he’s kept his walk rate under 3.0, his ERA ranage is 2.25 to 3.44. It’s a two-run difference.

Everything else is fine with a 91-mph fastball and an 8.0 K/9. I could envision a scenario where Cueto is rosterable. The question to ponder is should he be drafted or added later once he shows some command. I’d expect the demand for him to be low, so add once he shows some signs of life. Draft someone else.

551: Chris Archer

Here are the facts:

  • No health
  • No team
  • No third pitch
  • A ballooning home run rate.

Not good. Just ignore him until he’s throwing with a team.

543: Brent Honeywell Jr.

He last threw a pitch in 2017. Pass.

541: Josh Fleming

The 25-year-old Fleming is an interesting pitcher. First and formost, his 64% GB% was first among all pitchers with at least 30 innings. Additionally, he continued a trend of limiting walks with a 2.0 BB/9. His 7.0 K/9 is not ideal, but it’s similar to fellow groundballers, Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson. The only worry with a high groundball pitcher in the infield defense, but I believe the Rays will do everything possible to have a good defense.

He attacks hitter mainly with his insane sinker (73% GB%, 10% SwStr%). He also throws a cutter and change that are OK. It’s going to be tough for any opposing offense to get going if a third of all their batted balls are on the ground.

In 2020, Fleming used his skills to post a 2.78 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, but his ERA estimators were closer to 4.00. Steamer projections have his ERA in the low-4.00’s, so it’s a reasonable ERA estimate.

I’m all in with Fleming in deeper formats. Great home park with an outstanding organization behind him. While not exciting, he could anchor the backend of a fantasy staff.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Bud Smith
3 years ago

Did you intentionally review Keegan Akin for a second time in this series, or are you just not keeping track of who you’ve reviewed already?